News 01 Aug 16

Statue of Ambassador’s Killer Erected in Croatia

Government ministers attended the inauguration of a statue of Miro Baresic, who killed a Yugoslav ambassador in 1971 and died fighting in the Croatian war for independence 20 years later.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Miro Baresic in 1985, when the Swedish government reduced his murder sentence. Photo: YouTube screenshot

War veterans minister Tomo Medved was one of two officials from the current interim government who attended the inauguration of the two-metre-high statue in the coastal village of Drage on Sunday, describing Baresic as a patriot who fought for an independent Croatia.

“Miro Baresic is one of the greatest Croatian patriots whose work and sacrifice we have to respect,” Medved said at the ceremony.

“For years, as an emigre and in the Homeland War [the term used for the 1990s war in Croatia] fought for a free and an independent Croatia and never gave up on his ideas, although he felt the injustice that was systematically inflicted on Croats,” he added.

Baresic was sentenced to life in prison by the Swedish authorities for the murder of Yugoslav ambassador Vladimir Rolovic in Stockholm in 1971.

But when a Scandinavian Airlines plane was hijacked by armed Croat militants in 1972, he was released from prison, along with five other men who participated in the murder, to fulfil the hijackers’ ransom demands.

He was given permission to enter Paraguay, which at the time was notorious for serving as a hiding place for wanted people like Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele and ousted Nicaraguan military dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

In 1977 and 1978, he even worked under a false identity as a bodyguard and an interpreter for the Paraguayan ambassador in the US.

The US authorities sought his extradition from Paraguay in 1979, under suspicion that he was involved in extorting money from Croat emigrants in the US.

After the charges against him were dropped, he was extradited to Sweden in 1980.

His sentence was reduced to 18 years in 1985, and he left prison in 1987 and moved back to Paraguay, where he lived until he returned to Croatia in 1991.

He was killed by rebel Serb forces in southern Croatia on July 31 that year.

Video of the 1985 decision by the Swedish government to reduce his prison sentence.

One of his cousins, Ante Baresic, who initiated the project to erect the statue, told Croatian daily newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija that his relative was a freedom fighter.

“I deeply believe that Miro was never a terrorist, and no Ustasa [Croatian WWII fascist], which he couldn’t be because of his date of birth [1950]… But he was a Croatian nationalist and a freedom fighter for the Croatian state. And whoever thinks differently isn’t telling the truth,” Baresic said.

He claimed that Miro Baresic did not intend to kill the ambassador but to kidnap him and exchange him for Croat prisoners. He insisted that the kidnapping went wrong, after Rolovic pulled out a gun and was killed by Baresic.

Controversial culture minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic also attended the inauguration of the statue, along with senior representatives from the right-wing Croatian Party of Rights ‘Ante Starcevic’, which is part of the outgoing governing coalition.

Wartime general Ante Gotovina was also present, as well as Drazen Keleminec, the controversial president of the far-right Autochthonous Croatian Party of Rights, which tried to prevent an anti-fascist commemoration in the Croatian village of Srb last Wednesday.

A group of men in shirts bearing the insignia of the 1990s Croatian Defence Forces paramilitary unit ‘Rafel Boban’ also chanted the fascist slogan ‘Za dom spremni’ (‘Ready for the Home[land]’) at Sunday’s inauguration.

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